Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
A Thirsty Colonization: Water and Urban Political Ecology in the Silver City of Potosí (1573-1700)

My dissertation brings together social and environmental history to explore how the fate of the Spanish colonization and the people of the mining city of Potosí (present-day Bolivia) converged around a dramatic search for water in the Andean highland between 1573 and 1700. Water was at the center of various conflicts in the wake of booming silver production and rapid urbanization—120,000 inhabitants in the early seventeenth century— in a challenging environment without a permanent water source at 13,420 feet above sea level. I will exam how conflicts over water shaped both Spanish efforts of radical ecological transformation to sustain its hegemony and the ways of experiencing the landscape by different people who inhabited Potosí. I will study how the Spanish Empire conceived and used one of the most impressive water infrastructure in the early modern world to sustain the colonial order and its political economy. Similarly, I will foreground Potosí as an urban landscaped defined by the interweaving of the Empire, the local society, and the physical environment, underscoring the active role of the Andean highland. The varied forms of resistance and negotiation over access to water reveal the contested nature of colonialism and foreground the active contestation by which subaltern actors challenged Spanish power and environmental changes in the Andes. In so doing, "A Thirsty Colonization" seek to rethink how scholars have conceived mining cities and to gain a deeper understanding on the interaction between colonization, people, and the Andean environment. My research methods include analysis of material, visual, and written sources of the encounter between the people—indigenous workers, slaves, silver miners, neighbors, merchants, among others— with the reservoirs, public fountains, and the artificial river. My findings provide fresh perspectives regarding water and colonization, built-environment, and urban political ecology.